A futuristic city can be seen to be emerging.
A futuristic city can be seen to be emerging.

Leo Hidalgo/flickr

Smart cities are not some distant, utopian fantasy — they’re here today, though not necessarily where you’d expect them to be.

Cities all over the world are already using smart technologies to improve quality of life for their residents. Emerging tech developments like smart sensors and big data, along with more established ones like social media and mobile apps, are cutting municipal costs and helping cities run more efficiently.

At the same time, these changes are making these areas more reactive to the needs and values of the people who live there.

How Can a City be Smart?

As Bob Violino of Computerworld defines it, a smart city uses technology to improve the quality of life for its citizens while driving economic development and sustainable resource management. As urban populations continue to rise across the globe, achieving this kind of synergy between a city, its citizens, and technology is becoming increasingly important.

The United Nations Population Fund reports that more than half the world’s population lives in urban areas, and the total number of urban-dwellers is expected to reach five billion by 2030. Such growth necessitates a smart and flexible relationship between cities and citizens in order to maintain a sustainable urban existence.

Today’s “Future-Cities”

A glimmering metropolis.

CheWei Chang/flickr

Many of the cities that are blazing the trail when it comes to integrative technologies aren’t the ones that you’d probably expect. Dubuque, Iowa, for example, saved tens of thousands of gallons of water by creating a web portal that allowed residents to monitor their water consumption data in real-time.

According to the City of Dubuque, the system reduced water usage of 151 households by 6.6%, or 89,000 gallons, over 9 weeks. Extrapolated to include the entire city, this comes out to about $190,936 of savings a year.

Cities like Glendale, Arizona are developing traffic management systems that let workers change the way that traffic lights are synchronized in real-time, as well as send alerts via traffic signs and manage circumstantial traffic events.

Glendale has also implemented a mobile app that lets residents report infrastructural issues by taking photos and writing a brief description, which is emailed directly to the city.

Perhaps no city is as “futuristic” as Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, a waterfront city that sits on the Persian Gulf. Initiated in 2006 and funded by private investors, the city features automated cars, or “robotaxis,” that ferry people from building to building. Smart meters in homes that monitor every appliance can even tell you if your dryer has been running for too long.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go

While it may be a while before any major U.S. metropolis looks like Masdar City, some of the most exciting smart city development is currently happening in the mobile app market. From urban discovery apps to restaurant ratings and local government legislation, citizen-made apps are playing an increasingly important role in shaping our future cities.

While it may be a while before any major U.S. metropolis looks like Masdar City, some of the most exciting smart city development is currently happening in the mobile app market. From urban discovery apps to restaurant ratings and local government legislation, citizen-made apps are playing an increasingly important role in shaping our future cities.

Many municipalities like Philadelphia have opened the data they collect every day to the public, providing countless opportunities for innovative mobile apps.

One such app, called Bus Guru, gives users real-time updates on public transit options and schedules, while Councilmatic emails its subscribers primary source material from the city government. MuralApp points users to local murals and public art in Philadelphia, and anyone can add a new location.

As the density of urban populations continues to rise, the number of possibilities for developers rises with it. Using Infinite Monkeys‘ intuitive app-building platform, anyone can make a mobile app to help their city take important steps towards the future.